- April Hunt For the AJC
Since opening in mid-October 2016, Station Soccer, a soccer field at the Five Points MARTA station, has scored a goal with Atlantans and made its mark as the world's first soccer field at a transit station.
As early as 2015, Soccer in the Streets board member Sanjay Patel started talking up installing soccer pitches at MARTA stations. Even though he faced skepticism, Patel kept at it.
On a visit to London, he watched as schoolkids and workers alike emerged from a train to nearby soccer fields to play and socialize.
He knew Atlanta, too, could build stronger communities through soccer, said Jose E. Devarez, Soccer in the Streets communications director.
"Soccer in America is a middle-class, suburban sport," Devarez said. "We knew, we built a pitch accessible to everyone as well as a community green space, we could keep kids engaged and have a positive social impact."
His vision, now known as Station Soccer, is a miniature 99-by-66 foot pitch on the top floor of Five Points Station in downtown Atlanta, which was funded by an Atlanta United grant.
In just the first season, winter, the slowest time for soccer, organizers have already seen large numbers. There is also growing interest from commuters, who stop between trains to ask about games and how to get involved.
Planned as a pilot pitch, the Five Points field has been approved for five years. Games take place nearly every night and all weekend long, in what was once an amphitheater built as part of the original station, but closed off for years because of safety concerns.
Soccer in the Streets offers online information about leagues and how to register. The nonprofit welcomes children from ages 6 to 18 to play in its program for free. Adult leagues subsidize the youth activity.
Station Soccer host a nighttime coed league. It has also become a home field for five youth training sessions and four other adult leagues, including one from Atlanta City Hal and a lunchtime league for restaurant workers. It also hosts regular pickup games.
Pickup games are available for anyone unable to commit to a league. A Meetup page keeps track of specific times and events. You can also follow the nonprofit on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for photos, events and up-to-date schedules. There is a donation fee to play in adult pickup matches.
MARTA named the project a "transit win" of the year for its success in drawing more people to the station and immediate impact in the community. The agency, donors, and Soccer in the Streets are now in talks to bring more fields to other stations with the hope of building a club community – a league of stations if you will.
"I've never played in a place that has such an amazing vibe," said Devarez, who is also a former NCAA Division I player for Long Island University. "It's special there, in the middle of everything. We want everyone to try it and become part of our social impact soccer initiative."